Or MAYBE you could maybe point out they're lying.
Politico ran an impressively bad piece Tuesday on the New Mexico special election to fill Deb Haaland's former congressional seat, now that Haaland's become secretary of the Interior. The piece asks what seems like an important question: How will Democrats respond to Republicans who accuse them of wanting to eliminate the police and let all the bad guys out of prison, huh? Rather than highlighting that the Republican talking point is bullshit, the story frames the two candidates as simply offering different perspectives.
Melanie Stansbury, the Democratic candidate in next week's special congressional election here, spent last weekend touting Joe Biden's agenda, vowing to strengthen infrastructure and fight climate change, drought and hunger.
Her Republican opponent used the same preelection push to warn that she would be heading to Washington to "defund the police" and back legislation to close all federal prisons within 10 years, releasing infamous criminals out on the street.
"Think about who's in federal prison right now: El Chapo, the co-founder of al Qaeda, the Oklahoma City bomber, the Unabomber," state Sen. Mark Moores told a luncheon of three dozen Republican women on Friday. "That is how radical this agenda is, and we have to stop it." [While Timothy McVeigh was executed 20 years ago, Terry Nichols is still in Supermax. — Dok]
As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman points out on the Twitter box, there's a bit of a problem with that third paragraph: It's not true, but Politico only explains that it's false some 14 paragraphs later, and then "only vaguely."
3. The whole thing is presented as "Trouble for Dems!" and not "Repugnant lying by Republicans" which is the actual story.— Paul Waldman (@Paul Waldman)1621948466.0
Instead of calling attention to the lie, Waldman notes, Politico only asks, "Is this clever gambit going to work?" And when political reporting reduces lying to a clever tactic, he says, that simply encourages more lying. Well sure, if it works!
The story is framed not as a contrast between a Democrat who's running on the Biden administration's successes and plans versus a Republican who's falling back on the same lies and distortions that they deployed in 2020. Instead, it's all just about how "both parties are using next week's race in this central New Mexico district to test their messaging," and if one of the messages isn't especially grounded in reality, why would Politico's horse-race coverage reflect that? Nobody asks if one of the horses in a real horse race is lying, do they?
And so we get a paragraph that explains that for Democrats, the messaging goal involves "selling a vision of post-pandemic economic recovery attractive enough to defy historical odds against keeping their narrow majorities." Republicans, on the other hand, aren't bothering with Biden, presumably because he's dangerously popular, and are instead "doubling down on their 2020 strategy, accusing Democrats of supporting policies that would make residents less safe amid an uptick in violent crime."
Especially if there's no truth to those accusations.
Now, none of that bullshit is likely to make much difference in the deep blue Albuquerque-anchored district formerly represented by Haaland. Biden won by 23 points there in November, and state Rep. Stansbury is expected to win the seat easily. But Politico finds a very interesting story here, which again it discusses without using the word "lie."
But the margin still could be telling. And if this race is any indication, Democrats are still grappling with how to address the GOP's attempt to paint them as radical on issues of policing.
For her part, Stansbury has said that New Mexicans aren't so easy to fool, and that their top issues are "our economy, pandemic relief, education, and community well-being."
And Mark Moores, the Republican? If there's something he's actually in favor of doing in the unlikely event he somehow goes to Congress, you wouldn't know it from the Politico piece. Instead, we learn that he's trying to portray Stansbury as a radical, citing an April tweet in which she called for passage of the BREATHE Act.
That BREATHE Act sure has some scary ideas in it, says Politico, multiple paragraphs before the article ever gets to noting [spoiler!] that Stansbury isn't actually in favor of every part of the proposal. Instead, we're treated to Moores's excellent attempts to portray her as criminals' best pal:
On the stump, he implores voters to go to breatheact.org — and, in case they don't, he's happy to rattle off some of the bill's contents. It calls for the elimination of Border Patrol and ICE, the dismantling of local police and the emptying of federal prisons. At a recent debate, he brought the husband of a murdered woman, Jacqueline Vigil, as his guest.
And at campaign events he passes out a flier that on one side notes he is "standing tall for law enforcement" — the 6-foot-6 Moores is a former lineman for the University of New Mexico. On the reverse, Stansbury's picture is surrounded by crime-scene tape.
Not a hint there that there's anything dishonest in portraying Stansbury as someone who thinks murders are just peachy. Eventually, several paragraphs later, Stansbury is given a chance to say, "We need to be talking about systemic racism and how that interfaces with policing in our criminal justice system," and that she supports police reform.
Oh yes, and long after the details of how Moores is attacking her, we're informed that Stansbury doesn't actually support parts of the BREATHE Act proposal like "the emptying of prisons," but that she is in favor of ending the use of private prisons, same as that old commie President Joe Biden. Oh, so the attack from the third paragraph of the story, which has been repeated throughout the piece, isn't at all what Stansbury supports? Thanks for mentioning that.
And a kicker: While the article waits several hundred words to give Stansbury a chance to state her actual position, that's immediately followed by a rebuttal from Moores, who insists Stansbury isn't allowed to back away from any part of the proposal because she just isn't, OK?
So yeah, it's a heck of an analysis: How are Democrats going to handle Republican disinformation, especially when lazy journalism keeps repeating the dishonest Republican talking points about things Democrats don't actually support? Truly, it is a puzzle. Hope those Democrats figure something out.
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The Derp State in action.
In a real life version of that "Kids in the Hall" sketch where a mail clerk gets a promotion and goes mad with his very limited power, the Washington Post reveals that the supervisor of an "obscure security unit" in the Commerce Department got some funny ideas about what his job was supposed to be. The "Investigations and Threat Management Service" (ITMS) is supposed to be concerned with keeping Commerce officials and facilities safe, but under supervisor George Lee, ITMS morphed into a kind of counterintelligence outfit, but without any actual legal authority to do spy stuff. Under Lee, the unit did half-assed investigations of Commerce employees and regular Americans, based mostly on whatever whims Lee might have about how to protect the Commerce Department from enemies foreign and domestic.
This has the potential to make a really good dark farce, with the right director and screenplay. The unit
covertly searched employees' offices at night, ran broad keyword searches of their emails trying to surface signs of foreign influence and scoured Americans' social media for critical comments about the census, according to documents and interviews with five former investigators.
In one instance, the unit opened a case on a 68-year-old retiree in Florida who tweeted that the census, which is run by the Commerce Department, would be manipulated "to benefit the Trump Party!" records show.
In another example, the unit searched Commerce servers for particular Chinese words, documents show. The search resulted in the monitoring of many Asian American employees over benign correspondence, according to two former investigators.
And while that may sound like the sort of stuff Donald Trump loved doing, as with William Barr's turning the Justice Department into Trump's own vendetta operation, the mind-blowing thing about the ITMS abuses is that Lee appears to have taken the security unit off the rails long before Trump even ran for president. It's not even clear that anyone outside Commerce knew of Lee's weird investigations, which seem to have targeted people regardless of their political outlook. We have a feeling there's still a lot more to be discovered about all of this, but for the moment, it doesn't look like Lee was pursuing anyone's agenda but his own, regardless of Trump's misuse of executive power elsewhere. I think it's more like some minor gangster who was running his own scams well before the arrival of a new Don.
And here's another surprise: The whole mess drew the attention of what seems to be one of the few competent people in Wilbur Ross's Commerce Department, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Intelligence and Security John Costello, who was so concerned about internal probes of the office that he recommended last fall that ITMS be dissolved, although that recommendation was never acted upon by higher-ups. Costello resigned after the January 6 insurrection, because he apparently had some integrity.
After the Post started asking for comment on details, the Biden administration suspended all operations of the ITMS, so that's good!
The Post says Lee started at Commerce in 2004, and that former investigators for the unit "allege that the office routinely overstepped its legal limits and has operated without meaningful oversight from within Commerce since the mid-2000s." The story, by investigative reporter Shawn Boburg, concedes that it's "not clear precisely when Lee expanded the unit's portfolio" beyond its assigned duties of protecting Commerce facilities and personnel.
About a year into the job, Lee
appeared to acknowledge that special agents within the department had limited law enforcement powers. In a memo obtained by The Post, Lee wrote to his supervisors in the Office of Security that the office's agents "may lack legal authority to conduct an appreciable portion of its investigative efforts, particularly criminal investigations."
Nevertheless, he persisted, mostly because it seems nobody was paying much attention, for years, and by 2014, the office had put together an "investigative guide" with a
section entitled "counterintelligence inquiries" that instructs agents on "baseline steps," including determining whether there are "indicators of tradecraft."
The one time an ITMS investigation ever got much public attention, Boburg says, involved what looks like a pretty specious investigation of a Chinese-American employee of the National Weather Service, Sherry Chen, who was
arrested by the FBI in 2014 on suspicion that she was providing information about the nation's dams to a high-ranking Chinese official who was also a former classmate. Lee and the Investigations and Threat Management Division were credited in a Justice Department news release.
But the case was dropped by federal prosecutors just a few months later, with "no explanation in court filings." Chen is now suing the investigators and others, claiming her treatment involved "false arrest and malicious prosecution." That case is just in its early stages.
Other former investigators offered all sorts of charming examples of ITMS doing investigations for which it had little or no authority, like monitoring Commerce employees' emails to see if they were in contact with foreigns, and opening files on people who sent completely nonthreatening mail to the Commerce secretary. In one weird example, the office investigated a former member of Congress, a California Democrat who wrote to Wilbur Ross to let Ross know about a group he'd founded that Ross might just love, because the nonprofit "was working to promote the idea that the electoral college was unconstitutional because it was based on a census count that included 'noncitizens.'"
Almost everything about Lee's attempt to build his own personal KGB seems ploddingly amateurish. One former supervisor told Boburg that the outfit's operations seemed like "someone watched too many 'Mission Impossible' movies," and another former agent wrote, in a memo about an insane training program designed by Lee,
It was clear that SAC [special agent in charge] Lee had limited real world surveillance experience and it felt as if he learned it all by reading a book on it the day prior to class.
And hoo boy, that training program!
Investigators also complained that Lee compelled new hires to attend a training program he personally designed in the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia, according to documents and interviews with investigators who attended. For surveillance training, Lee made investigators trail him as he drove erratically at high speeds on mountain roads, investigators said.
It was "the most reckless and unsafe training I have ever attended," [former investigator Christopher] Cheung wrote to Costello in a memo.
Cheung was also one of three agents who filed complaints about Lee and ITMS with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that Lee investigated Asian-American employees at Commerce solely on the basis of their ethnicity. In one nutso scheme,
Lee also ordered two agents to conduct broad searches on department servers, scanning Commerce employees' emails for certain Chinese-language keywords, Cheung's memo to Costello alleged. The keywords are listed in a document that characterizes them as words that appear in the names of talent recruitment programs sponsored by the Chinese government, a copy of the list shows.
The story doesn't cite particular examples, but we'll go out on a limb and assume the list of suspect words included all sorts of usages that might be used by either spies or ordinary bureaucrats.
In addition, ITMS agents did nighttime searches of offices, including looking in storage areas without permission, and even picking locks. They were all kitted out in spy gear, too!
During some covert searches, investigators wore the face masks and avoided or blocked the view of security cameras, former investigators said on the condition of anonymity to discuss the office's operations.
"It was so we didn't leave a trace," said one of the former investigators.
OK, but did they pretend they were dodging lasers, like Tom Cruise?
We have a feeling that, now that Mr. Lee has been relieved of his duties, a lot more on this is likely to come out. It promises to be equal parts hilarious and horrifying.
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Do they want to cop to invading any other reporters' private info?
In the latest revelation of an agency gone totally off the rails during the last year of Trump's disastrous presidency, the Justice Department just copped to secretly obtaining phone and email records for CNN reporter Barbara Starr. Remember when Trump spent years whining that Obama tapped his wires? Yeah, it's always, always, always projection with these people.
CNN reported last night that it received a letter from the DOJ on May 13 disclosing that the government sought and obtained a warrant for the veteran military reporter's phone and email logs for June and July of 2017. At some unspecified point during 2020, the government says it accessed "non content material," that is records of whom she spoke and corresponded with and when, but not the communications themselves. In light of the Trump administration's obsession with catching leakers and its admission that she was not the target of the investigation, we can safely read this as an effort to discover the identity of a government source for Starr's reporting. During the period in question, Starr published stories on North Korea, Syria, and Afghanistan.
File this one under "legal but highly irregular." (Before Bill Barr, President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder also went after national security leaks, as well as the reporters they were in contact with.) Clearly there are major First Amendment implications here, which is why the DOJ Attorney's Manual characterizes media warrants as "extraordinary measures, not standard investigatory practices," requiring sign-off by the attorney general himself and eventual disclosure to the affected journalists. And yet this is the fourth reporter this month to receive such a letter.
On May 3, Washington Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller and former Post reporter Adam Entous were informed that the government had intercepted their communications records between April and July of 2017, a period when they were reporting on then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions's communications with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. As with Starr, those searches took place sometime during 2020, presumably under the tenure of Bill Barr. (Barr resigned December 15, but the procedure for obtaining these warrants is supposed to take 30 days, so it's highly unlikely that his successor, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, made it happen in the last two weeks of the year.)
"While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information," DOJ spox Marc Raimondi told the Post. "The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required."
And props to Attorney General Merrick Garland for coming clean now, just weeks after assuming the reins at the DOJ. But we still have a lot of questions.
Why was Barr getting taps on reporters' three-year-old phone records in 2020? Was there a wholesale dragnet of reporters communications going on? These warrants appear to be unconnected by topic and issued from different courts, with Starr's letter signed by Raj Parekh, the (acting) US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia as well as National Security Division head John Demers, while the Post reporters were informed of their warrant by Channing D. Phillips, the (acting) US Attorney for DC. Is it a coincidence that the DOJ targeted reporters from the Post and CNN, two outlets despised by Trump, at the exact moment he was out there howling about them on the campaign trail? Exactly how many of these intrusions was Barr running, and did any of them lead to prosecutions of government employees?
But most of all, we'd like to know WHAT THE FUCK WAS GOING ON AT THE DOJ IN 2020? It was only four days ago we found out that the DOJ got a subpoena to unmask the identity of the person behind one of the Devin Nunes parody accounts on Twitter in an apparent attempt to help the congressman seek vengeance on people who say mean shit about him online. That is fucking outrageous, and it appears to be a part of a pattern of fucking outrageous behavior by Barr that reached a crescendo in the final year of the Trump administration. So it's all well and good for Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Jamie Raskin to ask the DOJ to beef up its internal procedures to stop it happening again, but that doesn't obviate the need for a full accounting of exactly what went down here.
And, no, a 500-page inspector general report that comes out in 2023 after half the subjects refuse to speak to investigators is not going to cut it. This isn't water under the bridge — it's a massive abuse of power by Bill Barr and his cronies, and the public deserves to hear about it.
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Cancel culture only affects white dudes whose editors are sick of their shit.
For all the blather we regularly hear from wingnuts who think that Twitter is violating the First Amendment (It can't! It's not the government!), the political Right has been awfully quiet about an actual case of a government entity interfering in an academic hire for political reasons. In April, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill proudly announced that its Hussman School of Journalism and Media would be hiring journalist (and UNC alum) Nikole Hannah-Jones for the university's prestigious Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. The job traditionally comes with tenure, as a recognition of general outstandingness of achievement in the journalistic field.
Hannah-Jones has a long career in investigative journalism, and in 2019 made a huge splash in media and culture for organizing the New York Times Magazine's "1619 Project" and writing the lead essay for the project. That essay earned her the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, and the eternal hatred of rightwing media, because the 1619 Project suggested that American history should be viewed primarily through the lens of slavery and the oppression of Black people, when any white fool knows America is the best country ever, founded by God to eventually elect Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
So yeah, that's why Hannah-Jones was denied tenure. The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, after a lobbying campaign, refused to approve a tenure recommendation that had been approved at every level of UNC Chapel Hill's faculty and administration, effectively killing it. Oddly, Donald Trump Jr. hasn't said a word about out of control cancel culture.
Since the board's decision meant it couldn't offer Hannah-Jones tenure, UNC's Hussman School instead hired her for a five-year appointment as a "Professor of the Practice," with the option of considering her again for tenure at the end of the appointment. Maybe by then, the idiocy over the 1619 Project will have blown over. Or maybe universities will have been burned to the ground; times remain weird.
Susan King, the dean of the Hussman School, was certainly excited to make the announcement, saying Hannah-Jones's appointment was
the story of a leader returning to a place that transformed her life and career trajectory [...] Giving back is part of Nikole's DNA, and now one of the most respected investigative journalists in America will be working with our students on projects that will move their careers forward and ignite critically important conversations.
But any celebrations of what should have been a lifetime appointment were a bit premature, as NC Policy Watch explains.
Last summer, Hannah-Jones went through the rigorous tenure process at UNC, King said. Hannah-Jones submitted a package King said was as well reviewed as any King had ever seen. Hannah-Jones had enthusiastic support from faculty and the tenure committee, with the process going smoothly every step of the way — until it reached the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
And that's where things fell apart, thanks to the rightwing outrage machine, which included pressure from groups affiliated with the UNC Board of Governors, which is controlled by the state legislature and in turn appoints each campus's board of trustees. Hey, forget Hannah-Jones's Pulitzer and her MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, she said nasty accurate things about the Founders, and so she's dangerous. One conservative North Carolina group, the "Carolina Partnership for Reform," published an unsigned editorial complaining that "This lady is an activist reporter — not a teacher," and insisting, on the basis of pure paranoia, that students in her classes would be forced to accept her radical anti-American beliefs in order to even get a passing grade, because that's just how the Left is: "They can't get up and leave if they disagree. They must sit there and accept her beliefs if they're to get a good grade. Think about that."
Weirdly, an actual UNC J-school prof who invited Hannah-Jones to teach his feature writing class as part of her tenure evaluation didn't see anything of the sort. John Robinson said he thought she was "an excellent teacher," which for all we know means the wingnuttosphere will come gunning for him, too.
"She assigned the students a story to read and she engaged with students on what made the story work and what didn't work. Then she engaged with students about careers in journalism. She's a UNC alum, so that interests them."
Robinson described the class as just what a journalism course should be — a give and take, not a one-sided lecture.
"She pushed back on some of the students' opinions and they pushed back on hers," Robinson said. "It was a vibrant learning experience."
Aha, see! She did challenge their opinions, and Robinson probably covered up all the Marxist propaganda she no doubt insisted was better.
One anonymous member of the board, clearly disgusted by Hannah-Jones's treatment, told NC Policy Watch the Trustees had withheld approval of tenure for one reason only: "Politics." The board member also said that the Board of Governors had actively politicized university governance in North Carolina:
The Board of Governors has decided not to reappoint certain trustees they felt were not on the right ideological page, the trustee said, and have even engineered the ouster of chancellors with whom they disagreed. They have defunded academic centers and discontinued programs with which they were at political odds. Trustees across the system know that track record when they're making these kinds of decisions, the trustee said.
"This is a high profile hiring decision and the last thing anyone should want is us going to the Board of Governors with this and they disagree," the trustee said. "That is not going to be good for anybody. That is when negative things are going to happen."
Another trustee agreed, noting that some members of the board had made up specious reasons for denying tenure to Hannah-Jones. The Knight Chairs are funded by the Knight Foundation to give the nation's most important, accomplished journalists the chance to train future journalists. The chairs are by definition for working journalists. So of course the board pretended Hannah-Jones should be disqualified because she's not an academic:
"There was some discussion about 'She is not from a teaching background, she is not from academia, so how can she just get a tenured position?'" the trustee said. "But if you look at the previous Knight Chairs, if you look at Penny Abernathy for instance, these are people who come from the world of journalism. That's the idea. That's what the program is and it's always been that way. So that argument doesn't really hold water."
UNC faculty and students have protested the board's decision, calling for it to be reversed; an online statement by some 40 faculty members said that denying tenure due to political pressure was a dangerous precedent that "unfairly moves the goal posts and violates longstanding norms and established processes." The letter also said that, if anything, Hannah-Jones actually "surpasses expectations for a tenured position."
And what about the usual culture warriors who fret that cancel culture is out of control, and stifling freedom? Andrew Sullivan, who once demanded that Hannah-Jones disprove the stereotype that Black men have great big tonkers, explained on Twitter that the political intrusion into higher education wasn't the least bit scandalous. Hannah-Jones hadn't been "cancelled," you see, because she still got a five-year job, now didn't she?
Never mind that since 1980, Knight Chair appointments have always included tenure. She'll get another chance to prove that she deserves something that for all others is a matter of course, so don't you go saying she's been treated unfairly, because the real oppressors are people who think systemic racism exists, the end.
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